Last summer, our family spent Shabbos at a retreat program in Cortlandt, New York. It’s a gorgeous place, with rolling grass, mountains and hills. There were lots of Jewish families there. It seemed like we could walk anywhere we wanted, but everyone kept stopping near a certain pole. I took a closer look and saw that the pole had a lechi (a vertical post about 42 inches in length) affixed to it, with a string on top which stretched to lechis on other poles. They were all part of an eruv which the group had constructed for Shabbos, serving as an invisible wall—allowing carrying on Shabbos within the wall but not outside of it.
I was especially interested in the use of the poles which created the eruv, as I’m currently learning Gemara Eruvin with our new morning kollel and morning-seder chabura.
Having a defined space for carrying on Shabbos is alluded to in Parshas Vayishlach. When Yaakov came to the city of Shechem, the pasuk says, “vayichan es p’nei ha’ir—he camped by the face of the city.” The midrash says that it was Friday afternoon, and Yaakov camped by making techumin (boundaries) for Shabbos, which determined how far he could venture out on Shabbos. The Sfas Emes explains that the midrash understands “vayichan” as deriving from the root of the word “menucha,” rest, alluding to Shabbos as the day of rest. This shows that boundaries for walking had to be established on Shabbos.
However, the necessity for Yaakov setting defined boundaries on Shabbos is quite puzzling, as the Gemara says that Hashem grants an inheritance without boundaries to all who delight on Shabbos, citing the pasuk in Navi which says, “When individuals delight in Shabbos, Hashem will situate them on the heights of the world and grant them the portion of inheritance of Yaakov Avinu.”
So … does Shabbos confine individuals, or grant them limitless space?
In order to contain an item, one needs the right-sized utensil. For our neshama, soul, its container is the body. And on Shabbos, we actually have an extra neshama—a neshama yeseira—says the Gemara. By keeping Shabbos, we can access the heightened sense of purpose made possible by our neshama yeseira, helping our neshama focus on our true mission in life: connecting with Hashem by performing His mitzvos, both bein adam laMakom and bein adam lachaveiro, between man and Hashem and between man and his fellow man.
What helps accomplish this? By placing actual boundaries around us on Shabbos and refraining from engaging in weekday activities, we create a receptacle that contains Shabbos. The laws of Shabbos don’t restrict us—it’s the opposite: We are giving ourselves the structure that enables us to receive and access more. Yaakov set up boundaries so he could receive and tap into more of something which is infinite: Shabbos.
By erecting boundaries, Yaakov observed both the physical and spiritual boundaries of Shabbos. Therefore, Yaakov is referred to as possessing “the portion without boundaries,” that is, someone with an infinite connection to Hashem, thereby guaranteeing a portion in Olam HaBa.
The Gemara says that Hashem told Moshe, “I have a special gift for Klal Yisrael in my treasure house. It’s called Shabbos.” The Sfas Emes quotes his grandfather, the Chiddushei HaRim: “We think that Hashem took Shabbos from His treasure house and gifted it to us. In truth, it’s the opposite: On Shabbos, Hashem lifts us up and brings us inside His treasure house.” As we stroll on Shabbos—be it in Teaneck, Passaic or Monsey—really we are walking in Heaven, in Hashem’s storehouse.
Strolling in Heaven does sound lofty, but how do we get there?
The aforementioned Gemara tells us that the way to access this experience is to delight in Shabbos. Simply understood, it means that we should enjoy good food and drink and delicacies on Shabbos. However, Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, explains that the delights of Shabbos are not limited to the delicious food and drink one consumes on Shabbos. In a deeper sense, it refers to feeling delighted that it is Shabbos—to be happy to have Shabbos and to view Shabbos as an uplifting day and not a day of restrictions.
At the end of a long hard week people are tired. And some view Shabbos as a day to get some much-needed rest. Some find it challenging to be constrained on Shabbos by having limited access to do things that they might enjoy. But the true delight of Shabbos comes when we realize that the limitations of Shabbos are really a means for us to expand beyond our mundane and physical limitations … to connect to our neshama and a deeper purpose of life.
May our excitement for Shabbos and the observance of its halachos (laws) allow our neshamos to soar to great heights.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected].
For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.